Saturday, January 4, 2014

Houston's "Lifestyle centers" - little islands of walkability in a raging car sea

The Houston vision of "lifestyle centers", or mixed-used commercial developments, seems to be one of isolated islands of walkability in a raging, boiling, frothing, crashing seascape of cars only... no bikes, pedestrians, or transit, no independent transportation for people who can't drive (under 16, the elderly, seriously handicapped, etc).

The very best jobs and closest jobs for people in Bridgeland will always be in the Energy Corridor and Westchase, so if Mr. Peter Houghton of West Houston Association is really concerned about getting his residents to the best, closest, highest paying jobs without getting on a freeway (or tollway), he should become an aggressive advocate for suburban transit modes, which will get them from Bridgeland and communities like it to the famously high-paying Houston energy jobs. In the short term, this will be cost-effective, quick deployment modes like vanpool and bus rapid transit, with commuter rail slated for the long term (vanpool and BRT use roads, but at least you can surf on your phone while someone else drives, and they use the road and energy resources much more efficiently).

Let's admit it - the jobs in a lifestyle center are not at all likely to match up in quantity or quality with the jobs at BP's WestLake campus, or ConocoPhillips and Shell Woodcreek north of I-10. A lifestyle center will have retail & restaurants, a real estate broker (affiliated with the developer itself), personal services like massage, yoga, hairstylist, nails, dentistry, family practice medicine, a small law office... and lots of unleased space, most likely.

Additional food for thought - minimum wage workers in a lifestyle center's retail & restaurants might not be able to afford a car in order to report to work. How is that staffing plan supposed to work? These people need transit also. No transit = no workers = no services delivered = no revenue = no profit = rents not paid = someone's asset is going to be "non-performing".

- Peter Wang

Houston Chronicle, January 2, 2014

By Lindsay Peyton

He {Peter Houghton} said mobility issues affect the quality of life for residents - adding that their expectations have changed over the years.

"The days of endless rows of houses and having to get on a freeway to shop are over," Houghton said. "Consumers and homebuyers demand more than that. They want shopping developments in their own neighborhoods and to go to work without getting on the freeway."

He said "lifestyle centers" - or mixed-used commercial developments - have become central features in master planned communities.

"You see them happening in The Woodlands, Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch," Houghton said. "The next ones will be in Cy-Fair."

Already restaurants and shops are popping up along U.S. 290, he added.

"We're seeing the Cy-Fair area start to dip its toes into the water," he said. "Once you get offices, retail and restaurants follow suit. I'm very excited about what the area will see in the next 20 years."

Houghton expects more businesses to locate in the area - now that the development of the Grand Parkway is moving forward.

"As people start to drive the Grand Parkway, they will realize they can get quickly to both sides of town," he said.

In the meantime, the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce plans to foster further discussions addressing infrastructure in the community, Martone said. "We're the entity that supports growth," she said.